I’ve been going a little overboard with this “Love Reaches Out” thing. By “thing,” I mean the workshops that UUA Outreach Director Carey McDonald has developed. And by “overboard,” I mean asking at the end of almost every conversation I have with a congregational leader, “Would you be interested in a ‘Love Reaches Out’ workshop?”
Actually, we’re all pretty excited about these workshops here in the MidAmerica Region. They’re a great way to engage congregations large and small in the process of “discovering who they are, what they do, and why it matters.” And we get to share the UUA’s cool branding resources, too.
If you’re not acquainted with these workshops, here’s what they’re about. Carey’s put together three ninety-minute workshops designed to help participants wrap their hearts and minds around these goals:
- Understand how the American religious landscape is changing and how UU congregations can respond to that reality,
- Examine who we are as Unitarian Universalists, both in our congregations and as a faith movement, and whether we are effectively communicating this to the wider world, and
- Develop a plan for getting started with your congregation or group reaching out into the community while staying grounded in your core identity or mission.
Friends, I’m here to tell you that these workshops deliver. Every time I’ve offered a full day of these workshops, participants leave with a lot of energy, a fistful of good ideas, and a renewed sense of how our faith can bring more love, justice, and peace to their communities and the world.
Truth is, these workshops couldn’t be more timely. Carey created them over a year ago, but in many ways, it’s like they were designed specifically as a response to the presidential election. Why? Because one of the final exercises in the last workshop asks participants this question: What are things about your community that truly break your heart?
I think we can all agree that there’s a lot of heartbreak in our communities already as a result of the election, and unfortunately, there’s the potential for even more. So when participants get to this exercise at the end of the day, the lists they’re making are pretty long.
So at this point in the workshop, I like to have people think about what Jim Wallis, president and founder of the Christian social justice organization Sojourners, calls the Matthew 25 Test. Wallis asks,
How do we decide where and how to focus our ministry, energy, staff, time, and gifts? How do we be good stewards of our calling? I think that Matthew 25:31-46 provides the answer. The key moment in the passage is when Jesus says:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me … Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.
Speaking in Washington, D.C., last month with a group of clergy and families protesting against Trump’s cabinet appointments, Wallis said that this “test” has become a “simple pledge”: I will protect and defend vulnerable people.
I will protect and defend vulnerable people.
Say it with me: “I will protect and defend vulnerable people.”
When the leaders of any of our congregations—large or small, urban or rural—look beyond their sanctuary walls and ask “To whom should love reach out?” I believe the the answer should be, first and foremost, to the vulnerable people in our communities.
No matter where a congregation is located, there are undoubtedly countless vulnerable people to protect and defend, to reach out to in love: black, brown, native, Muslim, immigrant, LGBTQ, folks with records, folks with disabilities, and poor communities.
That list is from Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. She says, these are the people we should show up for in the wake of the election, and I couldn’t agree more.
Now, more than ever, we need each and every one of our congregations and communities reaching out in love to protect and defend vulnerable people.